The COVID-19 pandemic took away a lot of things, but I never thought something else could take away so much more on top of it all. COVID-19 took away celebrating my “dirty 30” birthday with friends and family, and two years of Christmases and New Years. But being diagnosed with cancer DURING a pandemic took away so much more than that. My name is Leigh-Ann, and I am a 31-year-old girl who has a strong love for reading, horses, and hiking. I’m from Barrie, Ontario, Canada, and this is my story.
Getting diagnosed was shocking, scary, and world-changing, and it all started with a call to my family physician about tonsil stones. I just figured they’re annoying, so let’s do something about them (like remove the tonsil) and I would be on my way, but that was far from the case.
After visiting my doctor, came ultrasounds, antibiotics, a core biopsy in the right side of my neck, and a scheduled neck/upper chest CT scan. I attended all of these appointments alone due to visitor restrictions at the hospital. Then on April 27, 2021, the phone call came, almost a month after the core biopsy was completed. I was home alone, my spouse was at work over 45 minutes away, and my family was across town, almost as far. I was crushed, confused, and thinking how could this be? I had no signs or symptoms of having cancer. I just wanted the tonsil stones to be dealt with. I was immediately scheduled into the Cancer Centre. From there I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Nodular Sclerosis Subtype, Type 3A. It was on both sides, above and below my diaphragm, and all throughout my lymph nodes.
The call came with my initial appointment date to meet my oncologist. I asked if I would be able to have my spouse or someone with me, but no, due to hospital restrictions that couldn’t happen. They would only allow them to be on the phone with me. Then came my PICC line insertion, alone. What an experience that was too. My first chemotherapy transfusion appointment was completed alone. During these appointments, I expressed how high my anxiety was, but that didn’t change things. I felt SO alone, even though I knew that my family was a phone call away and that the hospital staff was kind, caring, and understanding. Having someone there would have made all the difference.
I also found it interesting that even though I was told this is the most common and most curable cancer, I was unable to locate ANYONE in my area with the same diagnosis or even a social media group. All of the people I could connect with were through social media platforms of people in the U.S. and most were younger than me or people who had already gone through everything with their treatments and were further along into remission.
My treatments started at the beginning of June, just in time for summer and the lifting of restrictions for gatherings outside. As much as this was an exciting time, I had so much to be cautious of. Of course, I couldn’t have any alcohol either, so attending gatherings was another wave of anxiety. Between friends and family members wanting hugs and then discussions on how I am doing, it was a lot, but of course, you put on the brave face and assure them you’re doing well. Whereas in reality, you cry when no one’s around. You silently scream so that no one hears you because you don’t want them to know you’re aching inside. You try to keep up on your same routine because that’s the only thing that feels normal and you can control. Or you break down when you wake up and your pillowcase is once again covered in hair (this hurt the most for me). You’re constantly thinking: is what I’m going through worth this? Is it actually working? Will this make any difference?
After a PET scan two months into treatment, I was informed that I did not need radiation. I was overjoyed because this was a huge concern of mine, knowing there would be higher risks with radiation later on in my life, especially with it being in my chest. Then, after six long months of chemotherapy, I was given the news of “you’re in remission.” This was November 30, 2021. Once again, I was given the news alone, with my spouse on the other end of my phone.
I was so happy that I was able to celebrate my 31st birthday with a glass of wine in December! I am also very happy that I can go back to my horse riding lessons and am gaining the energy to start hiking again. As of now, I am in remission, but I’m not out of the clear yet—I still have four and a half years of follow-ups to attend before officially being able to celebrate. To end, I’d like to say, cancer sucks, but when you have a group of people who support you, getting through it is a lot easier.